It was supposed to be a special house. Then the builder got emotionally involved.

As a real estate developer, Stephen Rodriguez knew the double-wide lot in the University Hospital of Philadelphia neighborhood was special the moment he saw it.

When his wife, Morgan Rodriguez, a real estate agent, showed him the property, which had a dilapidated townhouse on one side and an attached one-car garage on the other, Mr. Rodriguez saw an investment opportunity: His company tear it all down, commission a progressive architect to design an expansive new townhouse, then sell it for a handsome profit.

That was the plan, anyway.

But as the project progressed, the couple grew more enamored with the neighborhood and the home Mr. Rodriguez was building. At the same time, they were outgrowing their condominium, which was already feeling cramped with their two children – Paul, now 12, and Corinne, 10. Then Ms. Rodriguez gave birth to their third child, Louisa, now 3, just before construction. has begun.

“With three kids, we needed more space, we needed a basement,” said Ms Rodriguez, 37, also a founder of Home Kiki & Moa candle and bath products company.

Shortly before Mr. Rodriguez’s investment project was completed, the couple realized they already knew the buyers: themselves.

“Probably about two-thirds through the construction we decided to keep it,” said Rodriguez, 44.

It wasn’t just that they wanted the 4,500 square feet of living space. Over the years they had spent years obsessing over design details, the building had grown from a mere commercial project to a labor of love. “After everything we invested in it, it would have been heartbreaking to sell it,” he said.

It all started after Mr Rodriguez bought the land for $650,000 in October 2018. Hoping to build a townhouse with a striking modern design that wouldn’t feel out of place next to its vintage red brick neighbors, he approached the architects of Motorcycle Design Shop collaborate on a design.

“I gave them what was probably a long, pompous speech about how I wanted to build things that were going to be timeless and had really heavy mass for them,” he said. “For this one, I told them we wanted to have something in brick, because it was a block of bricks; we wanted it to be modern, maybe with a mid-century modern vibe; and we wanted to have things with curves.

Moto delivered on all counts with a townhouse that had an extra-deep facade made up of four overlapping layers of brick, two with spaced arrangements of brick that function as masonry screens. Curved, steel-framed openings cut through the brickwork to reveal the front door, garage, and windows.

“We were free to come up with things that were a little more playful and a little more ornate, but still grounded in the context that is the Philadelphia brick facade,” said Roman Torres, partner at Moto. “These layers of brick create wonderful shadow patterns, but also invite you in.”

For the interior of the three-story home, the couple kept the material palette to a minimum, choosing white oak cabinetry, doors, trim and herringbone flooring, accented with white and charcoal paint.

On the first floor, an open kitchen with an oversized soapstone island serves as the center of the house, between a dining room and a living room. Expanses of windows at the rear of the house – including awning windows that replaced a conventional backsplash above the cooktop and sliding doors that open the living room to a rear patio – help to draw in the light natural in rooms that might otherwise be dark.

A curved steel staircase with open white oak steps rises to the second floor above a built-in planter sprouting greenery. “This staircase was a project in itself,” Mr. Rodriguez said, noting that due to the complexity of the design, it took about six months to complete, between the metal fabricated by Holzman iron studio and custom-made wooden steps.

It’s the only element of the house that has really benefited from the pandemic, which hit after construction began in June 2019, Rodriguez said, because it was previously on the steelworker’s waiting list.

“They were making a lot of big stairs for hotels, restaurants, and office buildings, and then the pandemic hit and their business went from a one-year backlog to zero overnight,” Rodriguez said. . “I convinced the owner to come in alone and start nibbling at our staircase, which had previously been very low on the priority list.”

The master suite and another bedroom are on the second floor. Two more bedrooms and a family room with a terrace offering views of the downtown skyscrapers are on the top floor.

The family moved in last April, having spent around $1.1 million on construction, although they are still adding finishing touches, Mr Rodriguez said: “There are still a lot to do inside this house. We have fireplaces to install, joinery and a million other things.

Nonetheless, they are happy with their decision to keep this particular home in the family. Mr Rodriguez has built many houses, he said, but “we decided to keep the best one for ourselves”.

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